Ask the Experts: Half-Marathon Nutrition Q+A with Ruth McKean

Find your winning nutrition strategy

1 to 20 of 42 messages
10/08/2012 at 10:20

Hi everyone,

Sports dietician and ASICS PRO Team member Ruth McKean will be answering all your nutrition questions in the forum today between 1-2pm.

She'll help you to create a winning nutrition strategy and offer advice on how to refuel and hydrate to ensure you run at your best on race day. All you’ll need to do is login and join the forum debate below.

Ruth is a leading sports dietician and an advisor to the Scottish Institute of Sport. She is also a member of the British Dietetic Association and Health Professional Council, and a former Scottish National 5,000m champion, so she’ll be ready to answer all your fuelling and hydration questions.

We're opening the discussion now so Ruth will be able to get stuck in straight away at 1pm - so start posting your questions now!

Dominique RW

10/08/2012 at 10:30

Hi Ruth,

I'm currently focusing on Low GI for fuelling my runs so have been experimenting with flapjacks. Do you have any recipe advice or other ideas for low GI foods that I can eat on the run?

10/08/2012 at 10:36

Hi Ruth,

I'm a complete beginner when it comes to knowing how to fuel longer runs and my half marathon. Do I go for simple carbs or complex ones? Do I need energy gels or sports drinks? I'm a confused mess! Any advice would be much appreciated.



10/08/2012 at 10:52

Hello Ruth, do you have any advice for older runners? I'm interested in the foods (anti-oxidants?) that will help me recover and avoid injuries. Aches and pains don't go away as quickly as they used to!


10/08/2012 at 11:10
Hello Ruth,

I have torn my calf muscle and was wondering if there are any foods to eat that can help me heal faster? I only have 5 weeks ish until the great north run!
10/08/2012 at 11:15

Hi Ruth

If I get up at silly o'clock to go for a run I tend to just get up, some light stretching, drink a pint of water then go - have run up to 13 miles without anything to eat. Am normally famished when get back - am I doing myself any harm/increasing risk of injury or is this a good way of getting my body to learn how to run on my fat reserves (visibly I don't have much!)?



10/08/2012 at 11:21

Hi Ruth, I'm running the Bacchus half marathon in September.  They provide a range of sustinance as you go round the course including... Water, Wine, Jelly Babies, Gels, Bananas and Oranges, biscuits, dried fruit, crisps. What would you recommend going for?  What kind of impact would having a glass (plastic cup) of wine duing the race have? Thanks!

10/08/2012 at 11:30
Hi Ruth

I'm preparing for Stroud Half Marathon in October. I'm aiming for a time around 1.35 and am looking at nutrition to try to help me rediscover some form.

I've cut out chocolate from my diet (replacing with fruit) and reduced alcohol to near zero. I was wondering whether this strategy will help my times come down (on top of training of course) or whether, at my level, it won't really make much difference. ??I'm a slim build weighing around 10.5 stone, so luckily losing weight isn't an issue for me.


10/08/2012 at 11:37

Hi Ruth,

Towards the end of a Half or Full marathon I tend to completely tank (especially in the Full marathon) as i get to a point in a race where i can't keep any carbs down ... i usually manage 2-3 gel shots but then can't stomach any more. I've done cross-country ultra-marathons when i'm doing more walking/jogging i can eat protein (especially boiled eggs!) and that works but obviously can't do that on the run. Are there any protein shots available or something you'd suggest to get me to the end?



10/08/2012 at 11:44
Hi Ruth
I'd like some advice on how to fuel my half/marathon training. I'm finding it really hard to keep up with the calorie deficit running makes. Also should I be completely cutting out junk and processed food in order to improve my running or will it not make a difference? Thanks
10/08/2012 at 12:28

Hi Ruth

I am currently training for the Budapest Marathon in October. I am in the process of building up my long distance runs and therefore need to think about fuelling during my runs.

I am all for going "natural" so my questions are:

Do you have a recipe for a home made sports drink that can help you keep going during long runs?

In your opinion, what are the best natural snacks during a long run (snacks that I can easily carry as well)?

Thank you for your replies in advance

10/08/2012 at 12:29

Hi Ruth - are there any running 'super foods' that you would recommend introducing to a runner's diet? (I'm currently training for the GNR)

Thanks, Matthew.

10/08/2012 at 13:02

Hi everyone,

Thanks for all your questions, I will try my best to answer them as fully as possible.


10/08/2012 at 13:13

HI Emma

Low GI (glycaemia Index) can be useful athletes and non athletes as it is thought to help with blood glucose control. This index is used to rank foods according to the immediate effect on blood glucose concentration and the food that it is often ranked against is white bread which is a very high GI food. High GI foods are classed as ones that are broken down quickly and therefore glucose enters the blood rapidly whereas low GI ones release more slowly and stop a rapid increase in GI. However I should also mention if you eat large portions of a low GI food it will still raise your blood sugar levels as the glycaemia load is also important. So you must also control portions and it may be better to eat smaller meals then some snacks and also bear in mind if you train twice per day (certainly if only 8 hours between session) then a higher GI recovery snack may be a good idea.

It is interesting to note also that if a low GI breakfast and low GI lunch then this does appear to have helpful affect for the rest of the day, so focus on these meals. Low GI food at breakfast is oats so porridge, granary bread (seed type bread) with peanut butter or other nut spreads such as almond, cashew spread, a pot of yoghurt

Other Low GI foods
• apples, unripe bananas, pears, mangoes and grapes, baked beans
• multigrain bread,  porridge,  untoasted muesli
• crumpets,  pasta,  milk,  low fat fruit yoghurt

Blood glucose control is usually better when a consistent eating pattern is adopted with regular meals and snacks. Also when you add fat and protein to a meal this can change the GI of a food/slow the response so for example if you have jacket potato (which is very good for you but it is a high GI food but if you have it with tuna, cottage cheese, beans it will reduce it from a high to a lower GI food.

The flapjacks are a good idea but they can be so calorie dense because of butter, nuts, honey/syrup) so may be Low GI but don’t be eating large or frequently. I have no recipes to hand but look for fruit with some seeds or nuts which you do not usually eat to increase the vitamin and mineral variety in your diet and put as little butter and sugar as you can get away with. I tend to adapt recipes’ and just see how they turn out but I look out for lower fat version. The internet has loads of ideas on this.

I hope you find this useful



10/08/2012 at 13:21

Hi Kate

Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (cramps that only occur during exercise) and most commonly occur in the in calf for runner and can just twinge to being very very painful. This occurs when the muscle involuntary contracts and does not relax.  It is though this is due to unusual stimulation of the muscle but really the exact cause is not known. However cramp occurs more readily in tired muscles and therefore if only occurring in races only it in my experiment will be lack if your muscles able to cope with the exercise at this stage of the race and often something has to change in training for example at end of very long runs putting in race pace efforts when muscles tired. If you are coached then speak to your coach about this.  I don’t think this is nutrition related as although hydration (dehydration) has been associated as a possible cause of these cramps but in fact the evidence is not that strong to support this although those are an exceptionally sweaty individual with other factors are perhaps more likely to cramp. You may also have heard that cramp is linked to the loss of potassium, calcium and magnesium but this has very little support as there is little of these lost in sweat. I would say that if you do not fuel well before these races that might also increase chance as under fuelling will mean muscles will fatigue earlier than they might so make sure coming up to a half you eat as if you are still training hard for the last 2 days before the race and if take more than 90mins to complete race perhaps sufficient  some fluid /fuel along the way.

Some suggestions to reduce risk of cramp are as follows:

  • Stronger & fitter muscles are more resilient to fatigue and hence cramp so may need to work on strength and fitness
    • Be very careful when changing speed/ intensity particularly during the later stages of a race.  Fatigued muscles take longer to adapt to increased intensity.
  • Wear comfortable, unrestrictive clothing and footwear.
    Practice good hydration practices both before and during exercise so perhaps you could try using a electrolyte drink (sip on this the morning before a race so nuun, high five zero, SIS Super hydro  and even 500ml in the evening before race but I think the training is the issue .

I really hope this helps.




10/08/2012 at 13:22

Thanks, Ruth! That was more information than I was hoping for! Thanks for the advice

10/08/2012 at 13:30

Hi Sarah

My advice is always keep it simple! During endurance running simple carbs are  recommended as you body is only wanting the sugar, you have enough fat and protein in reserve (although no matter how well fueled you are you will still use some fat & protein but primarily carbs). This message has not changed in sports nutrition but you may read about fats and protein forming some of the foods in distances above the marathon but distances under this simple sugars and drinking to thirst is the key messages. However you should aim to get away with as little sugar as you need without compromising performance as too much may cause stitches, stomach discomfort and feeling sick and too little you run out of energy. If you are running anything under an hour steady no fluid or fuel is generally needed unless you start dehydrated, very hot etc. If you run for over an hour but still under 90minutes and it is steady I would still suggest no fluid/food but  but if running above 90minutes I would start carrying fluid and fuel. Start with 20g of carbs per hour so this would be around 330ml of an isotonic sports drink or fresh orange diluted with water by half (so 50% water, 50% fruit juice) but often water is enough and you may struggle to drink 330ml in an hour so instead you could have 4-5 jelly babies/other jelly sweets and drip feeding over the hour so one every 15minutes or have a gel at 45minuts (these are usually around 25g). People will have different levels of stomach comfort with different foods & need different amount of carbs per hour but I suggest you will find your balance at around the 20-40g mark some may need as much as 50g only a few will need more than that. A race is always going to have bad patches but nutrition can help!

I hope this gives you a guideline to start. Good luck.


10/08/2012 at 13:36

Hi Hilary

This is a good question. Antioxidants is a very interesting area and these are found naturally in brightly colored fruit and veg (berries, oranges, peppers etc) as well as tea’s and some other foods so first I would suggest you have at least 5 different brightly colored fruit & veg in diet. A commercial food you could try is “cherry active” (concentrated form of cherry juice) a lot of this research is subjective feeling of less soreness etc but more recently there is more objective information that this may reduce soreness due to the anti inflammatory effect the antioxidants are having. If decide to try this cherry juice do not then add any further supplementation of antioxidants, other than by natural foods, as it is shown that too much antioxidants through supplements may start causing more stress to your body.



10/08/2012 at 13:38
Mike Rutland wrote (see)
Hello Ruth,

I have torn my calf muscle and was wondering if there are any foods to eat that can help me heal faster? I only have 5 weeks ish until the great north run!

No! Do exactly what a physio has told you to you! At this point and time nothing with any evidence other than a good diet with sufficent range of vitaims and minerals will help. Best of luck and really hope you have a speedy recovery.


10/08/2012 at 13:38
Hi i am always wondering whats best after a long run, and when is the best timing. Read in the asap after and/or within an hour. Suggestions welcomed. thanks
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